Catherine Drea chronicles the stark reality as coronavirus takes her beloved step mother.
WE need details. How is she today? Weak but stable, we are told. I spend the day mulling that over.
Weak but stable. It doesn’t exactly paint a picture. You want to ask, but how does she look? What is she wearing? What is she saying?
Others are more forthcoming. One nurse cries on the other end of the line to my sister. The carers are on their last legs; devastated, in the middle of a pandemic, within the walls of the nursing home. A place that has been a haven for our Step Mum. They and we are bereft.
As far as we can garner, reading between the lines, the nursing home became a cluster long before anyone detected the virus there. By the time Covid 19 was confirmed, there had been two deaths. It was the first mention of it to us. It was on her floor, we were informed, but she was safe so far.
‘I struggle with the aftermath of her death in the same way I did as a child. How do we talk about it? Who do we tell that it was Covid 19?’
“You matter until the last moment of your life.” Cicely Saunders one of the legends of hospice care once said. We get the sense that her carers believe this too. They do their best, but none of us can be there to hold her hand.
As a child I experienced more than my share of death. All of these deaths became an integral part of my being. I absorbed waves of grief, at that young age everything goes in deep.
I did my time with grief. I waded through the mire. I steeled myself. I broke down. Grief was part of the damage that I had to learn to live with and accept. I did well! I spent 20 years in counselling. Somehow, eventually, the counselling came to an end.
It’s not that I didn’t have a lot of joy in life. I had tons of it. Another lesson that grief will teach you; life is short, life is for living. You know, all those cliches? But life to me was always intensely beautiful or maybe I was just lucky?
Death seemed to be something hidden and shameful when I was growing up. And that was how I internalised it; a series of tragic failures. I remember being asked in school, “Are you the girl whose Mother died?” I answered NO!!! No kid wants a burdensome label?
The thing about grief is that it comes in so many forms. Everything from anger to lethargy. No two people will react in exactly the same way at exactly the same time. Right now there is a lot of grief around. As deaths mount up, in a small community like ours, everyone will know someone who dies from Covid 19. Everyone will have anxiety about their older relatives catching the virus, going to hospital, ending up on a ventilator.
And so eventually the pandemic came to our family. Our Step Mother became the fifth death in her nursing home. She was almost 94. My sister counted back the days. We reckon it took 13 days in all. Her symptoms were atypical. The first thing that happened was she fainted. Gradually it overcame her. Two nurses and a carer were with her at the end. It’s hard to accept that we couldn’t be there.
I struggle with the aftermath of her death in the same way I did as a child. How do we talk about it? Who do we tell that it was Covid 19? I find it so hard to say those words. I’m not sure I should be telling you now? But I don’t know what else to do with this eerie fact.
Gloria Steninam said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” So that’s probably it. There’s a lot to be pissed off about, but right now it won’t help. I can’t quite go there.
Death was never taboo in Ireland until now. We could celebrate the dead person’s life, go from weeping to laughing at the wake. Put trinkets into the coffin, get out the old photos, tell yarns. So what if it went on for days, with drinking and music and lots of hugs? It was a part of our culture.
But our family had no big Irish funeral. Not even a cup of tea. Most of us, like myself, had to watch it online. How we die and leave the world is so important. In our case her death is still unfinished business until all of us can be in the same room and honour her life. No one knows when this will happen.
We all matter until the very last moment. We were known, we were loved, we existed. We go back over her life and loves via WhatsApp; her style, her cooking, her passion for red lipstick. Then, after a few days her death certificate arrives. It is stark.
Cause of death, Covid 19.
As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com